Upper Austria

Upper Austria is an exceptionally diverse province, with something to interest everyone. Linz, the capital city, has both the oldest church in Austria and a state-of-the-art virtual technology museum. On the banks of the rivers Danube and Enns rise the magnificent abbeys in Kremsmünster, Steyr and St Florian. The caves in the Dachstein range are fascinating natural monuments. However, Upper Austria’s greatest attraction is its glorious lakes, set amid limestone peaks in the beautiful Salzkammergut. The mild climate and therapeutic facilities attract visitors to the area’s small resorts, and Bad Ischl was once the summer home of the emperor.



Austria’s third city, Linz has been inhabited since Roman times, when it was a port called Lentia. In the early 16th century, it developed into an important trading center. Although today, Linz is a busy industrial city, the Old Town contains many historic buildings and monuments. The Hauptplatz, one of the largest medieval squares in Europe, is bordered by splendid Baroque facades. Among the finest buildings is the Town Hall, home to the Museum Linz Genesis, which tells the history of the city. The 66-ft-high marble Dreifaltigkeitssäule (Trinity Column) was completed in 1723. In the southeast corner of the square is the Church of St. Ignatius. Also known as the Alter Dom, it was built in the 17th century in Baroque style and boasts a wonderfully ornate pulpit and altarpiece. Nearby, the Landhaus is well worth seeing for its three beautiful Renaissance courtyards and loggia. The streets west of the Hauptplatz lead up to Linz’s hilltop castle, built for Friedrich V (Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich III) in the 15th century. The castle houses the Schlossmuseum, with paintings, sculptures, and historical artifacts. On the other side of the river, the Ars Electronica Center is a superb new museum that allows visitors to experiment with the latest technological innovations. Hidden away in the Lentia 2000 shopping mall is the Lentos Kunstmuseum, containing a fine collection of 19th- and 20th-century Austrian art, including works by Egon Schiele (1890–1918) and Gustav Klimt (1862–1918). For splendid views of Linz, take a ride on the Pöstlingbergbahn train, which climbs to the top of Pöstlingberg Hill. River cruises along the Danube west to Passau, in Germany, and east to Vienna depart from the quay at the Nibelungenbrücke. On-board entertainment includes themed events, such as a “Bavarian afternoon” or an “Italian night.”


Florian, the prefect of the Roman Noricum Province, converted to Christianity and was tortured and thrown into the Enns river in 304 as a result. His body was retrieved and, in the 11th century, a magnificent abbey and a church were built on the site of his burial place by Augustinian monks; they remain the keepers of St Florian to this day. St Florian is an impressive complex of buildings, with monks’ quarters, reception rooms, and a church with an adjoining chapel of the Virgin Mary. The main feature in the large courtyard is the Adlerbrunnen (Eagle Well), built in 1603.


Perg, a small town with a long history situated 19 miles east of Linz, was once owned by the mighty Von Perg family, whose last member died in the 12th century, during the Third Crusade. Until the 19th century, Perg was the largest center of millstone production; it is also the home of Manner, the largest manufacturer of sweet wafers in the world. Worth seeing today are some attractive houses on Herrengasse, a 1683 Baroque pillory in the main square and St Jacob’s church (1416), which has retained its Gothic interior. In Perg’s environs, graves and numerous remains of the Hallstatt civilization have been unearthed. The Heimathaus, at No. 1 Stifterstrasse, exhibits finds from that period. It also documents the production of millstones and has an interesting collection of 16th–17th-century ceramics, decorated using a special local technique.


The main attraction in this little town is its 15th-century Wallfahrts kirche (pilgrimage church), built by Christoph von Zelking, the master of Kefermarkt’s castle, Schloss Weinberg. He also commissioned its altar, dedicated to his favorite saint, St Wolfgang (died 994), bishop of Regensburg and Henry II’s tutor. The creator of the altar is unknown, but the result is a masterpiece of medieval art. Carved entirely from limewood, it was probably once painted, but now the original texture and color of the wood are revealed. Its center is made up of the figures of saints Peter, Wolfgang, and Christopher. On the wings of the altar, the artist has placed scenes of the Annunciation, the Birth of Christ, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Death of Mary. The altar was once riddled with woodworm and only narrowly escaped total destruction. It was carefully restored in 1852–5, under the supervision of Adalbert Stifter, a writer and school inspector for Upper Austria.


Freistadt, the largest town in the Mühlviertel region, was once the last border fortress on the route leading from the Alpine countries to Bohemia. Much of the medieval town wall has survived to this day, including several bastions and two impressive gateways; one of these, the late-Gothic Linzer Tor, is the symbol of the town. The focal point of the old town center, the rectangular Hauptplatz, is lined with historic houses. On its east side stands the town hall, with a carved fountain. The 15th-century Katharinenmünster, the church of St Catherine, on the southwest side of the square, was altered in the Baroque style by Johann Michael Prunner. The altar paintings are the work of Carlo Carlone. The castle, not far from the main square, was built in 1397 for the widow of Prince Albert III. It was devastated by a fire in 1888 and subsequently turned into a military barracks. The building now houses the Schlossmuseum, a regional museum holding a large collection of glass paintings, along with 11th-century pottery and handicrafts.


This town on the banks of the Inn river was, until 1779, owned by the Bavarian family of Wittelsbach, whose influence can be seen in the local architecture. Schärding’s most beautiful feature is Stadtplatz, the central square cut in half by buildings. At the north end of the upper square, Silberzeile is a row of beautiful houses with gabled roofs. It is overlooked by the vast church of St George with a grand steeple. Little of the old castle apart from the gateway and moat remains here. The gateway houses a regional museum with a late- Gothic Madonna, a beautiful crucifix, and sculptures by Johann Peter Schwanthaler the Elder (1720–95).


Until the late 18th century, Obernberg belonged to Bavaria and was ruled by the bishops of Passau. In 1779, it transferred to Austria. The old market town has preserved its lovely Marktplatz, the central town square, lined with pretty houses with exceptionally beautiful, richly ornamented stucco façades. Particularly interesting are the façades of the houses at Nos 37, 38, and 57, with decorations attributed to the prominent Bavarian artist Johann Baptist Modler. A fountain in the center of the square is surrounded by sculptures. When visiting the Annakapelle, the parish church of Obernberg, it is worth taking a look at the 16th-century woodcarving of the Holy Family. A castle, once owned by the bishops of Passau, has stood in Obernberg since the 12th century, but little remains of it.


Braunau is a substantial border town on the Inn river and one of the prettiest spots in the entire region. It was built by the dukes of Lower Bavaria, who ruled it for a long time. Originally intended as a bridgehead in their battles with the Turks, it remained one of the best-fortified towns in this part of Europe until the 17th century. In 1779 it passed to Austria, together with the rest of the province. The Baroque fortifications were dismantled by Napoleon, but some sections survived, including the remains of several medieval buildings. The center of this Gothic town is occupied by the unusually elongated Stadtplatz, surrounded by historic houses. At No. 18 Johann-Fischer-Gasse, built in 1385, an old bell-foundry has survived almost intact. Together with the former ducal castle at No. 10 Altstadt, next door, it is now the home of the regional museum, showing art, handicrafts, and traditions of the Inn region. The town’s symbol is the stone tower of the Stephanskirche (parish church of St Stephen) which is nearly 330 ft tall. Construction of the church began in 1492, but the Baroque cupola dates from a later period. Inside is a lovely stone pulpit. The only surviving parts of the original altarpiece by Michael Zürn are figures of the Madonna with Child and saints Stephen and Laurence. The altar itself dates from 1906; it is a Neo-Gothic copy of Michael Pacher’s altar in St Wolfgang. Among the tombs outside the church is one of Hans Staininger, who is shown with a curly beard that reaches to his toes – and was said to have been the cause of his untimely death. Braunau was also the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, who lived at No. 15 Salzburger Vorstadt until he was two.


Upper Austria’s largest zoo, covering an area of some 30 acres, is based at Schmiding, 4 miles north of Wels. This modern zoo, with giraffes, monkeys, crocodiles, exotic birds, and 1,500 other animal species, is famous for its walk-in aviary with birds of prey. A huge tropical house, an African savannah, and a large colony of flamingoes are further highlights of the zoo. Children will love the 16-ft-high platform which allows them to come face to face with the giraffes. As well as land animals, the zoo features an array of marine life, displayed in an “aqua zoo”. Feeding time with the piranhas is particularly popular with visitors.


Lambach, on the left bank of the Traun river, grew rich in the Middle Ages thanks to the flourishing salt trade. The Lambach Abbey church was mostly rebuilt in the 17th century; rebuilding of the abbey itself was completed 50 years later. The Baroque interior of the church is very beautiful, but Lambach owes its fame primarily to its Romanesque frescoes, probably dating from the 11th century. Unique in Austria, they are considered an outstanding example of Romanesque art. At their center is the Madonna with Child, to the left the Adoration of the Magi, who present gifts to the Holy Infant. The south vault depicts Jerusalem and Herod’s palace. The abbey treasury also holds the Romanesque chalice of Bishop Adalbero, and precious monstrances and chasubles. Also on view are ceiling paintings by Martino Altomonte and Martin Johann Schmidt. The musical archives hold a copy of Mozart’s Lambacher Symphonie, which the composer reputedly created while staying here. Lambach also has a beautifully preserved Rococo theatre.


The history of Wels dates back to the Romans, as testified by numerous excavations. Some of the objects discovered are on display in the former Minorites’ Abbey, including the famous Wels Venus, a bronze statuette from the 1st–2nd century AD, and the oldest early-Christian epitaph in Austria, from the first half of the 4th century. Today Wels is a center of agriculture and industry, and the venue of Agraria, a biennial agricultural fair of international importance. Many historic features have also been preserved. Stadtplatz, the main square in the old town, is entered through a Baroque gate, the Ledererturm. Many houses in Stadtplatz have attractive façades, such as the Rococo Kremsmünstererhof with its arcaded courtyard, which for 400 years belonged to Kremsmünster Abbey. Adjacent to it stands a water tower (1577) and a two-house complex forming the late-Baroque town hall. Also on Stadtplatz is the Stadt pfarrkirche, the parish church of St John the Evangelist, with an original Romanesque portal and magnificent 14thcentury stained-glass windows in the presbytery. Burg Wels, the imperial palace, first documented in 776, is now a lively cultural center and home of the regional museum.


Perched high above the Krems river, on an impressive terrace formed during the Ice Age, is the 8th-century Benedictine abbey of Kremsmünster, its present appearance dating mostly from the 17th century. The abbey was completed by Jakob Prandtauer, to designs by Carlo Carlone. Two of its most remarkable features are the 17th-century fish ponds, surrounded by columns, corridors, and sculptural fountains, and the eight-story Sternwarte, or “Mathematical Tower”. Completed in 1756, the 50-m- (165-ft-) high observation tower was arguably the highest secular building of its era. Today it holds collections of paleontology, physics, anthropology, astronomy, and zoology. The Stiftskirche (abbey church) has rich stucco decorations and angel statues. The abbey museum contains works by Austrian and Dutch masters from the Baroque and Renaissance periods, wood carvings, and gold objects. The pride of Kremsmünster are its earliest exhibits; these include the gilded-copper chalice and candelabras of Duke Tassilo, the legendary founder of the abbey, and the Codex millenarius (c.800), an illuminated manuscript.


Steyr, one of Austria’s largest industrial centers, is also a very attractive town that has managed to preserve its old town almost intact. The townscape is punctuated in the north by the turrets of the castle and in the south by the towers of the Stadtpfarrkirche, the parish church at Brucknerplatz. The center of town is the elongated Stadtplatz (town square) with most of the historic sights. The Bummerlhaus (1497), at No. 32, is a well-preserved Gothic house with a high pitched roof and three arcaded courtyards, that is now a bank. The Rococo Rathaus (town hall), with its slender steeple, was designed by Johann Gotthard Hayberger. The inner courtyards of houses around the square are also worth seeing. The Stadtpfarrkirche, built in 1443, was remodeled in the Neo-Gothic style, but it has preserved some elements of its original 15th-century decor, the work of Hans Puchsbaum (builder of the Stephansdom in Vienna), as well as some lovely wrought-iron grilles. The south wall has magnificent 15th-century stained-glass windows; the sculptures in the north portal and the former cemetery chapel of St Margaret (1430), also by Hans Puchsbaum, date from the same period. The Schloss (castle), first mentioned in 10th-century annals, stands in the oldest part of the town. Today it has a Baroque façade and a mostly Rococo interior. The house at No. 26 Grünmarkt, formerly a granary, is now a museum.


Bad Hall, a health resort between Steyr and Kremsmünster, lies on the so-called “Romantic Route”, but the idyllic scenery is just one of its attractions: it also boasts the richest iodine springs in Central Europe. A therapeutic resort surrounds the springs, which are used to treat eye, circulatory, and heart diseases. The lovely Kurpark (spa park), with its excellent sports facilities, makes convalescence a real treat. There is also a Rococo church, which belongs to the abbey at Kremsmünster. Another sight worth visiting is the fascinating Forum Hall Museum, which holds a superb collection devoted to the development of traditional folk handicrafts in Upper Austria, as well as to the history of the local springs.


Stadl-Paura, a small town on the right bank of the Traun River 1 mile south of Lambach, has an imposing Dreifaltigkeitskirche (church of the Holy Trinity). Construction of the church was started in 1714 in thanksgiving for the sparing of the town from the plague. In its design, the church represents the Holy Trinity – everything is in triplicate. There are three façades, three portals, three towers, and three altars. The church was built by the Linz architect Johann Michael Prunner. In the design of the interior decorations, some clever false architectural perspectives have been incorporated, creating unusual effects. The paintings on the altarpieces are by Carlo Carlone, Martino Altomonte, and Domenico Parodi. The house at No. 13 Fabrikstrasse, once an orphanage for the children of sailors who lost their lives in the waters of the Traun river, is now a museum of shipping, Schiffleutmuseum, which is open on Sundays and holidays in summer.


Schwanenstadt is a typical small upper Austrian town, situated between Lambach and Vöcklabruck. In the center of town stands a Neo-Gothic parish church with a 256-ft spire, built in 1900 on the site of an earlier Gothic church. Worth seeing inside are a late-Gothic statue of the Virgin Mary, a 15th-century relief of the Mourning for Christ, and 18th-century Baroque statues of the 12 apostles. In front of the town hall is a 13th-century well, which is set on an attractive square lined with houses with Renaissance and Baroque façades.


The name of this town was first documented in 1134 as Pons (bridge) Veckelahe. Soon after, a trading settlement sprang up on the banks of the Vöckla river. The only original structures to have survived from this period are two medieval towers. At the center of town stands the small, 15th-century, late- Gothic St Ulrichkirche (church of St Ulrich), which has a Baroque interior. The site of the 12th-century hospital and chapel is occupied by the magnificent Baroque St Ägidiuskir che, designed by Carlo Carlone, with sculptures by Giovanni Battista Carlone. The ceiling frescoes depict scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The former parish house, at No. 10 Hinterstadt, now houses a regional museum with a room devoted to Anton Bruckner. The south of the town is dominated by the silhouette of Wallfahrtskirche Maria Schöndorf, a church of pilgrimage. It has a Neo-Gothic altarpiece with a beautiful 15th-century statue of the Virgin Mary, and pretty stained-glass windows behind the main altar from the same period.


This lakeside town, on the northern end of Traunsee, established itself as a trading post in the salt trade. Today, it is a popular and well-run health resort, and it is also known for its fine ceramics. Gmunden’s old town center is situated between the lake and the left (western) bank of the Traun river. Its Hauptplatz boasts a Renaissance town hall with a small, arcaded tower and a carillon that plays regularly. The Stadtpfarrkirche (parish church) has a two-fold dedication: the Virgin Mary and the Three Kings. The Magi are also depicted in the main altarpiece, one of the most beautiful works by Thomas Schwanthaler. The figures of saints Elizabeth and Zacharias were carved by Michael Zürn. Each year on Epiphany Eve (5 Jan), a barge travels along the Traun river bringing the Three Kings to town; they then solemnly proceed to “their” church. A ceramic fountain decorated with a figure of a salt miner stands adjacent to the church. The Gmunden K-Hof Museum, based in the Renaissance building of the former Salt Mines Authorities, has exhibits on the history of the town and its salt production, a room on the astronomer and mathematician Johannes von Gmunden, and a section dedicated to the history of sanitation, which includes displays of locally made toilet bowls and chamber pots. In Traunsee stands the water fortress of Lake Castle Ort, built in the 15th and 16th centuries and rebuilt in 1634. It has an enchanting triangular, arcaded courtyard and remnants of Renaissance frescoes.


Precariously perched on a rocky promontory, the small village of Traunkirchen is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Salzkammergut. It presents a lovely picture, clinging to the west shore of Traunsee, Austria’s deepest lake, with views of the lake’s wild southern shore and the Traunstein peak on the eastern shore, the highest mountain of the region, rising to 5,548 ft. Above the village towers the pretty Johannesbergkapelle. On the northern end of the headland stands the Jesuit Pfarrkirche, rebuilt after a fire in 1632. It has an unusual fishermen’s pulpit shaped like a fishing boat, with the apostles drawing nets filled with fish. Since 1632, Traunkirchen has also hosted an annual Corpus Christi boat procession.


One of the most picturesque peaks in the area, Schafberg (Sheep Mountain) rises to 5,850 ft between Attersee and Wolfgangsee. Austria’s steepest cog railway runs old steam trains up to a station only 164 ft from the summit for unforgettable views of the most beautiful lakes of the Salzkammergut: Mondsee, Attersee, and Wolfgangsee. Visible in the background are the towering mountain ranges running to the Dachstein massif in the south, and, beyond Salzburg, you can see the Bavarian Alps on the German-Austrian border.


On the northern shore of Wolfgangsee lies the popular town of St Wolfgang. According to legend, it arose around a chapel built by Wolfgang (died 994), bishop of Regensburg in Germany, and teacher of Emperor Henry II. Although he died a hermit, Wolfgang was an extremely popular figure in his day and was later canonized. His chapel became a much-visited place of pilgrimage. In the 15th century, it was replaced by a church with room for a much larger number of pilgrims. The four scenes visible on the wings of the altarpiece when they are closed (on weekdays) depict events from the life of St Wolfgang. The saint is shown holding a model of the church and is flanked by the figures of the saints George and Florian. On Sundays, the wings of the altar are opened to reveal eight painted scenes from the life of Christ. They are striking in their coloration, the dynamics of their life-like figures, and, above all, in the architectural perspective employed by the artist. The brightly gilded, sculpted centerpiece depicts the Coronation of the Virgin Mary attended by Christ, St Benedict, and St Wolfgang. The church of St Wolfgang also has a lovely Baroque altarpiece by Thomas Schwanthaler, depicting the Holy Family on their journey to Jerusalem.


Therapeutic saltwater springs were discovered in this region as early as the 16th century. It was also here that Franz Joseph I, the future emperor, signed the declaration of war with Serbia, on 1 August 1914, signaling the start of World War I. Many aristocrats and artists have been attracted to the spa, among them the composer Franz Lehár, who lived at No. 8 Franz-Lehár-Kai, which is now a museum devoted to him.


This corner of Austria is one of the country’s most visited regions. With more than 70 lakes surrounded by mountains, it features breathtaking scenery as well as a unique climate. During winter it becomes a hotspot for skiers, while the summer months serve hikers and those keen to take in the views. This is also one of the few areas in Europe to preserve many original folk customs, including the tradition of placing a crib in front of the house at Christmas.


The village of Hallstatt is one of the loveliest tourist destinations in the Salzkammergut. The steep drop of the Dachstein massif provides a scenic backdrop for the town and adjacent Hallstätter See. The houses are clustered together so tightly that many are accessible only from the lakeside, while the old street runs above the rooftops. Even the local Corpus Christi procession is held on the lake, in festive, decorated boats. Rising above the village on a rocky headland is the pagodalike roof of the Pfarrkirche. In the cemetery surrounding the church stands the Beinhaus, a chapel that serves as a storehouse for some very bizarre objects. This former mortuary now holds some 1,200 human skulls, painted with floral designs and in many cases inscribed with the name, date, and cause of death of the deceased. Shortage of space in the graveyard meant that some ten years after a funeral, when a body had decomposed, the remains were moved to the chapel to make room for the next coffin to be buried, resulting in this unusual depository. Directly at a height of 1,640 ft above the town is Salzwelten Hallstatt, one of the oldest known salt mines in the world, which can be reached by cable car. Salt was mined here as early as 3,000 BC and then transported to the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean. In 1846, a large cemetery yielding some 2,000 graves was uncovered in Hallstatt. Rich burial objects dated mainly from the Iron Age but some dated even further back, to the Bronze Age. The Hallstatt finds proved so important archaeologically that the Celtic culture of that period (800–400 BC) was named the Hallstatt civilization. Its influence reached far into France, the Slav countries, and Hungary. Today, Hallstatt treasures can be seen in many Austrian museums, with the bulk of them held at Schloss Eggenberg, near Graz. The few finds that stayed in Hallstatt are kept in the World Heritage Museum. The entire Hallstatt region has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.


For pure, natural, unspoiled beauty, this area has few rivals. The Gosauseen are three small mountain lakes – Vorderer Gosausee, Gosaulacke, and Hinterer Gosausee. They lie one after the other, surrounded by forest and limestone rocks, and intercut with deep gorges. Vorderer Gosausee lies at an altitude of 3,061 ft. An undemanding walk around the lake will reward you with superb views of the surrounding mountains and over the Dachstein range, with its many glaciers. The most picturesque mountain, with zigzag peaks and a sheer drop, is Gosaukamm (8,068 ft). This is the easternmost part of the Alps where the snow stays on the ground all year round. The road to Hinterer Gosausee climbs steeply among thick forest. From this lake, 3,786 ft high, you can climb some of the adjacent peaks.


The caves in the slopes of the Dachstein range are among Austria’s most beautiful and fascinating natural monuments. The vast Dachsteinhöhlen cave system, one of the largest on earth and millions of years old, is covered by 500- year-old permafrost. After the last Ice Age, underground waters created strange ice mountains, glaciers, and frozen waterfalls. The most interesting of these is the Rieseneishöhle (Giant Ice Cave). The caverns in this surreal underground ice-world are named after King Arthur and the Celtic heroes, Parsifal and Tristan. The most arresting cavern formation is the so-called Ice Chapel. A little further along, also in a limestone wall of Dachstein, is the entrance to a second system of caves, known as Mammuthöhle (Mammoth Caves), so named because of their size rather than after the prehistoric mammal. These caves do not have ice formations, but there is a spectacular light show. Both networks of caves can be reached via paths starting from the first cable-car station. The sightseeing route leads through a labyrinthine network of tunnels, gorges, and chambers that stretch over 27 miles, with a 4,000 ft change in altitude. Individual caverns have been given evocative names such as the Realm of Shadows or Midnight Cathedral. Also worth seeing is a third cave, Koppenbrüller höhle, which has a giant water source and is considered to be the largest water cave in the Dachstein massif. All caves are open to the public only during the spring and summer seasons (May to Oct; Koppenbrüllerhöhle May to Sep). When visiting the caves, especially the ice caves, make sure you take warm clothing.